Old battlefields perplex me. These sacred spots exist just because humans butchered each other, row after row of men slaughtered, often for no reason on random land that did not matter. And now phalanxes of tour buses clog the parking lots. The visitors claim that they are there to learn something about war, but I doubt they will grasp anything of the actual experience – the stench, the confusion, the blindness, the despair.
Antietam’s ghosts, however, I understand. Soldiers who vanish, a reek of gunpowder, a Gaelic refrain from the Irish brigade. Some of the dead never entirely left the field, and now roam through the environs of Sharpsburg at will. You couldn’t pay me to walk alone through the alleyways, or cross Burnside’s bridge. And nothing could induce me to linger in the Bloody Lane.